Basil Green created the unbeatable Capri Perana and modified many other Fords for local racing during the 1960s and 1970s
- Green appointed a Ford dealer in 1974 on the recommendation of Ford Motor Company President Lee Iacocca
- Ford South Africa honours Green’s invaluable achievements, including his induction into the South African Hall of Fame in 2019
The South African motoring industry and wider community mourn the passing of legendary performance car specialist and dealer, Basil Green. Ford South Africa takes this time to honour and reflect on Green’s numerous achievements and contributions which have become pillars of the industry we know today.
Green, who passed away on Monday, 27 June, was an exceptional ambassador for Ford thanks to his bespoke and world-first conversions which took production Fords to the highest level of motorsport competition. Green’s masterful input was so revolutionary that Ford even incorporated some of his developments in its local production model line-up.
As the man behind the legendary range of fast Fords that dominated local motorsport and performance road cars in the 1960s and 1970s, Basil Green was honoured for his remarkable achievements by being inducted into the South African Hall of Fame in 2019.
The SA Hall of Fame serves to tell the stories of extraordinary achievers, recognising their outstanding service and overall contribution to sport. In motorsport circles, South Africa has produced numerous famous names that have excelled locally and internationally, including the likes of Sarel van der Merwe, Peter Lindenberg, Ian Scheckter, Wayne Taylor and multiple Formula 1 championship-winning designer Rory Byrne – such that they have been honoured by the SA Hall of Fame alongside golfing icon Gary Player, and the country’s most famous and admired citizen, Nelson Mandela.
For Green, the nomination and subsequent formal induction to the Hall of Fame was a fitting tribute to his decades of dedication and excellence in motorsport and the motor industry in general.
Neale Hill, President, Ford Motor Company Africa, expressed his condolences to the Green family as well as the many friends that Green had made throughout his life. “The motoring world has lost a legend and a true vanguard of motorsport. His passion for cars and motorsport has left an indelible mark on all of us, and his invaluable contributions to Ford have helped define the company locally. His achievements and iconic cars will continue to inspire future generations,” said Hill.
The unbeatable Capri Perana V8
Such was the dominance of the mighty Capri Perana V8 that its famous Group 5-specification car, number Z181 with its distinctive orange Gunston livery and driven by Bobby Olthoff, won 13 of the 14 races in the 1970 season. It was capable of over 270km/h on the old Kyalami circuit’s long main straight, and topped the saloon car lap records at every one of South Africa’s race tracks, using a highly tuned V8 with a high performance Weber carburettor for each cylinder.
With the rules changing from Group 5 rules to the more production-based Group 2 formula in 1971, in an effort to level the playing field, the Capri Perana remained the class of the field, with car number A2 taking the title. Fortunately, both cars have been carefully restored and remain part of prized collections in SA – and are used on selected outings at historic racing events.
The road-going Capri Perana V8, on which the race cars were based, was immensely successful, with estimates of around 500 having been built by the Basil Green Motors team. It soon developed a cult following, and the handful of original cars that remain are highly prized locally and internationally – and are extremely valuable.
“When the Capri was introduced by Ford in 1969, we fitted a V6 engine as they were all four-cylinder models at the time, with the V4 being the top of the range,” said Green. “We sent one of our Capri V6 models to Ford for evaluation and engineering approval, and they liked it so much that they started building their own 3.0-litre V6 model based on our car, which was a first for Ford in South Africa, and globally.
“We then looked at what else we could do with the Capri and ended up with the lightweight V8 engine from the Mustang, sourced from Windsor Export Supply in the US, which was specially built to our requirements,” he said. “We also changed the gearbox, suspension, brakes, wheels and tyres. The bodies were produced at Ford’s Port Elizabeth plant and shipped to us, where we did the rest of the work.”
Tested by Car Magazine in January 1971, the Capri Perana was the only Ford-sanctioned Capri V8 in the world – and was the fastest locally produced car in South Africa. It was capable of accelerating from 0-100km/h in a mere 6.7 seconds and reached an impressive top speed of 228.4km/h. New, it sold for R4 450 through Ford dealers with a full factory warranty!
True professionalism, creating the Perana
Although the Capri Perana is the model Basil Green Motors is most famous for, it was preceded by several years of top-notch performance modifications for various cars during the 1960s, resulting in the company’s extremely popular, high-quality aftermarket kits being sold locally and exported to the UK. Interestingly, another of SA’s motorsport legends, Willie Hepburn, formed part of the Basil Green Motors team during the founding years and the subsequent Perana era.
The Perana brand was formally introduced with the Ford Cortina Perana in 1967. The name was actually chosen by Basil’s wife, Paddy, and derived from the ferocious South American piranha fish species.
Based on the Cortina Mk2 2000 GT, it was fitted with the renowned Essex V6 engine and drivetrain from the Ford Zephyr, along with upgrades to the suspension, brakes and use of what was then sporty 175×13 radial tyres on distinctive alloy rims. It cost R2 850 out the box, and established an outstanding racing pedigree for the Perana brand, claiming several SA Saloon Car Championship titles. This was followed by the Cortina Mk3 Perana V6 in 1972, which predated Ford’s popular Cortina ‘Big Six’.
Other noteworthy Perana models were the 1969 Escort Mk1 Perana, based on the Escort RS1600, to which Basil Green Motors fitted Ford’s venerable 2.0-litre OHC engine in place of the original 1.6-litre unit used in European markets. It proved an inspired choice, powering its way to numerous local race and rally titles.
A later effort in 1993, based on the front-wheel drive 1.6-litre Escort XR3, proved exemplary once again, with the hot Perana version boasting almost identical acceleration times and a higher top speed than the Ford Cortina XR6 of the same period. The company also offered tuned 3.0 and 3.4-litre versions of the Ford Sapphire in the early 1990s.
Close association with Ford
Besides the outstanding performance of his fast Fords, Basil Green’s association with the company was firmly entrenched when he was appointed a Ford dealer in 1974. Green and his team won numerous Dealer of the Year awards over the years for his landmark operation in Edenvale, which still proudly carries his name today as part of the SuperGroup conglomerate.
The story behind Green becoming a Ford dealer is an intriguing one, as it involved Ford Motor Company’s global president at the time, Lee Iacocca, who heard of the local team installing the Ford Mustang-derived 5.0-litre V8, as used in the Capri Perana, in the upmarket Granada Mk1 launched in 1972.
“One day Lee Iacocca phoned me and said that he wanted one of the Granada V8s we were building, so one was sent over, only for him to call me back and say the steering wheel was on the wrong side,” Green said about this famous engagement. “So it was arranged for a left-hand drive Granada to be sent to us from Germany. We managed to do the modifications in about a week, and it was then flown to America.
“Lee, as he insisted I call him, phoned me a couple of days later saying the car is fantastic and that Ford doesn’t have anything like it in the US,” Green proudly said.
With the Basil Green Motors team churning out Peranas as fast they could, it all came crashing down when the international fuel crisis hit in 1973-74, bringing an abrupt end to what was a booming business. “Motorsport was banned and we weren’t allowed to sell high performance cars,” Green mused. “We finished off the remaining cars we had in stock, but we didn’t have a business after that.
“Lee Iacocca contacted the chairman of Ford South Africa and told him to make me a Ford dealer, and we were given the Edenvale and Bedfordview sales areas,” said Green. “We opened the first dealership in our workshop, put a new car on one of the ramps and added a shop window so we could drive the car out the front. I think we won Dealer of the Year from Ford the following year.
“I then built a beautiful Ford dealership in the main street of Edenvale, called Basil Green Ford, and that is where my long and proud relationship with Ford began.”